Fare evasion

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Fare evasion, as distinct from fare avoidance, is the act of travelling on public transport in disregard of the law and/or regulation, having deliberately not purchased the required ticket to travel (having had the chance to do so). It is a problem in many parts of the world, and revenue protection officers operate on many systems. Often ticket barriers, manned or automatic, are in place at stations etc., to ensure only those with valid tickets may access the transport.

Fare evasion and fare fraud is generally a crime in most jurisdictions. The fare not paid, compared to potential penalties and hassle, is generally considered “not worth it”.[1][2]

One method of fare evasion is jumping over the turnstiles which mark the entryway into a subway system; hence the term, “turnstile jumping”. Other methods include adults traveling on children’s tickets, or using discounted tickets or free passes that the passenger is not entitled to. The most extreme method is train surfing.

Another issue occurs on the bus, passengers would either bypass the bus driver or simply enter through the rear door of the bus. This is commonly found under the New York City Bus system which is causing its operators to lose millions of dollars a year.[3]


Fare evasion can be a chronic problem in transit systems, especially large systems like New York[1] or Paris. From classic turnstile “vaulting” and “slugs” instead of legitimate tokens to elaborate schemes involving stolen faregate keys, fraudulent electronic fare media, “forgetting” proof-of-payment (POP) receipts, or “two card monte” that takes advantage of fare system features, many ways exist to avoid paying fares. Indeed, industry standard revenue ‘leakage’ is reportedly 3%~6%.[4] Evasion is so rampant in some cities that conversion from POP to turnstiles is being proposed[5] or seriously considered.[6]

In the transit world, fare abuse studies are sometimes shrouded in utmost secrecy and treated like classified information, but it is widely discussed in popular press,[7][8][9][10][11] local television news,[12][13] criminal justice literature,[14][15][16] economics research,[17] and internet blogs;[18] in New York,[7][8][19] New Jersey,[5] Boston,[4][11] Chicago,[12] Atlanta,[13][20] San Francisco,[10][21][22] Los Angeles,[6][9] Seattle,[23] Vancouver,[24] Edmonton,[16][25] London,[15] and Paris.[26] Four agencies (TransLink, King County Metro, Edmonton, New York) made evasion audit findings public, San Francisco (Muni) and Atlanta (MARTA) presented papers, while Toronto addressed evasion in a fare collection study,[27] at least one confidential international benchmarking study was published,[28] and Federal Transit Administration has even requested special studies of non-farebox passengers [19] within the context of National Transit Database ridership reporting.

To understand evasion, it is imperative to first understand interactions between fare control hardware, fare tariff, and passengers. Evasion occurs when passengers gain access from unpaid to paid side by interacting with fare controls in manners inconsistent with tariff. Transit’s tariff is complex, sometimes requiring legitimate revenue passengers to defeat fare controls with behaviors that resemble evasion to casual observers. Additionally, entry procedures aren’t always strictly followed, though usually no actual revenue losses takes place. There are, therefore, real debates about what constitutes evasion. Are common behaviors that result in no revenue loss considered “evasion”?

Different observation methodologies were used to estimate evasions: staff interviews (Edmonton), operator counts (King County Metro), surveyor counts (New York and San Francisco), and third party audits (TransLink Vancouver).

Fare evasion in the New York City Subway[edit]

Fare collection hardware[edit]

The New York City Subway has four basic types of fare control equipment: low turnstiles (including agent-operated special entry turnstiles, SETs), high entrance-exit turnstiles (HEETs), high exit turnstiles (HXTs), and gates (including emergency exit gates (EXG), agent-operated gates (AOG), and Autonomous Farecard Access System (AFAS) gates for wheelchair access). Passengers enter the subway by swiping farecards to unlock the turnstiles. Typical control areas feature low turnstiles, one or more EXGs, and a token booth. Unstaffed entrances feature only HEETs and EXGs. Exit-only locations have only HXTs and EXGs. All control areas must have at least one EXG, as per State emergency regulations.[29]

Systemwide EXG installations since 2006 [30] introduced a weakness into otherwise secure AFC systems. Gates were originally only unlocked via booths' buzzers or employees’ keys. After London Underground’s 2005 terrorism attacks, fire codes required “panic bars”, allowing each gate to be opened from the paid side, expediting emergency evacuation. While a loud, piercing, and warbling alarm sounds whenever EXGs are opened, general public took to using gates for exiting (substantially reducing queues), especially at unstaffed locations. Panic bars were also installed on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston and on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).[31] This provided an impetus for renewed interests in evasion, because evaders could enter through gates when already opened by exiting passengers.[32]

Transit fare tariff[edit]

Per NYCS fare tariff, exceptions to normal turnstile operations abound. Children under 44 inches (110 cm) (turnstile machines’ top height) must crawl under when entering with fare-paying adults (not permissible when travelling alone). Those with bulk items (bicycles, strollers, packages) must request station agent witness their swiping farecard, rotating turnstile without entering, then enter through an AOG with their items. Passengers with paper half-fare or “block” tickets must relinquish them to the agent and enter through a SET. School groups traveling with authorization letters may be admitted through an AOG.

An added complication is several unofficial system entry methods resulting in no revenue loss but forbidden by tariff are frequently practiced. At unstaffed locations, fellow passengers often open EXGs for entry by customers with bulk packages after witnessing them rotate turnstiles without entering. Good Samaritans occasionally pay fares for others – technically a tariff violation. Children often squeeze through HEETs with paying adults (if under 44”, no revenue loss occurs). At token booths, agents often admit passengers through an AOG or SET for operational reasons. Police in uniform, construction workers, contractors in safety vests, employees, and concession vendors often enter with keys or agent’s permission. Police officers sometimes allow student groups to enter through gates.

History of fare evasion in New York City[edit]

New York City’s transit system in the 1970s was in disarray. Subway ridership was spiraling downwards, while private express buses mushroomed, exacerbating Transit Authority’s (TA) problems. Crime was rampant; derailments, fires, breakdowns, and assaults were commonplace. Trains and stations were covered in graffiti. Passengers were actually afraid to ride the subway. To attract passengers, TA even introduced a premium fare “Train to the Plane” – staffed by a Transit police officer at all times. Comparatively, fare evasion seemed a small problem. However:

Brazen forms of fare evasion may be especially harmful in evoking fear of crime among riders. Legitimate passengers may perceive […] that the transit system has no control over these lawbreakers. The literally free access […] could lead to increased use by vagrants and encourage criminals to favor subways over streets […] one in six fare evaders arrested is wanted on an outstanding warrant for another crime.[33]

TA’s strategy for restoring riders’ confidence took a two-pronged approach. In 1981, MTA’s first capital program started system’s physical restoration to a State-of-Good-Repair. Improving TA’s image in riders’ minds is as important as overcoming deferred maintenance. Prompt removal of graffiti [34] and prevention of blatant fare evasion would become central pillars of the strategy to assure customers that the subway is “fast, clean, and safe”:[35]

In February 1984, one of our first publicly announced goals was to clean graffiti off our rolling stock. Virtually nobody, inside or outside the Authority, believed it could be done. Yet on May 12, 1989, the last graffiti covered train [was] taken out of service, marking a 100% clean and graffiti free subway car fleet.[36]

Similarly, fare evasion was taken seriously. The TA began formally measuring evasion in November 1988. When TA’s Fare Abuse Task Force (FATF) was convened in January 1989, evasion was 3.9%. After a 15-cent fare increase to $1.15 in August 1990, a record 231,937 people per day, or 6.9%, didn’t pay. The pandemonium continued through 1991:

The Authority’s [booth clerk estimate of nonpaying riders] found 187,160 people, or 5.9%, did not pay […] Fare evasion had become such a major problem that [the FATF was] turned over to Transit Police, headed by Chief William Bratton.[37]

To combat the mounting problem, FATF designated 305 “target stations” with most evaders for intensive enforcement and monitoring. Teams of uniformed and undercover police officers randomly conducted “mini-sweeps”, swarming and arresting groups of evaders.[38] Special “mobile booking centers” in converted citybuses allowed fast-track offender processing.[39] Fare abuse agents covered turnstiles in shifts and issued citations. Plainclothes surveyors collected data for five hours per week at target locations, predominantly during morning peak hours. Finally, in 1992, evasion began to show a steady and remarkable decline, dropping to about 2.7% in 1994:

Two hundred additional daily patrols were added in 1990 and special procedures established to expedite processing of summonses and fines […] Fare evasion arrests soared from 10,268 in 1990 to 41,446 in 1994, a 304% increase, while felonies dropped 50% during the same period.[40]

The dramatic decrease in evasion during this period coincided with a reinvigorated Transit Police, a 25% expansion of City police, and a general drop in crime in U.S. cities. In NYC, crime rate decline begun in 1991 under Mayor Dinkins and continued through next two decades under Giuliani and Bloomberg. Some observers credited the “broken windows” approach of law enforcement [41] where minor crimes like evasion are routinely prosecuted, and statistical crimefighting tools, whereas others have indicated different reasons for crime reduction.[42][43] Regardless of causality, evasion checks resulted in many arrests for outstanding warrants or weapons charges, likely contributing somewhat to public safety improvements. Arrests weren’t the only way to combat evasions. The early 1990s TA was examining methods to improve fare control passenger throughputs, reduce fare collection costs, and maintain control over evasions and general grime. Their secret weapon – the AFC system – was being designed, and evasion-preventing capability was a key consideration.

Designing the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system[edit]

TA’s queuing studies concluded purchasing tokens from clerks wasn’t efficient. Preventing ‘slug’ use required sophisticated measures like tokens with metal alloy centers and electronic token verification devices. To provide better access control, TA experimented with floor-to-ceiling gates and “high wheel” turnstiles. Prototypes installed at Lexington Av-110 St in East Harlem during a “target hardening” trial reduced evasions compared to nearby “control” stations .[44] However, controls consisting entirely of “high-wheels” created draconian, prison-like environments, with detrimental effects on station aesthetics. Compromises with more secure low-turnstile designs were difficult:

Despite transit officials’ promises new turnstiles would virtually eliminate fare evasion [… riders used] all the old tricks to slip through the prototype […] Within a few minutes, an investigator watched three cheats beat the turnstile [at 18 St-7 Av…] One evader hurdled the bar, one limbodanced under it, and the third “back-cocked” it, pulling the bar back slightly and slipping through. Richard Trenery, TA’s program manager for AFC, said the agency’s investigators had never seen anyone back-cock the T200 turnstile, which has a mechanism meant to prevent that […] the turnstile is built narrow at knee-level to make crawling under harder, and has slanted edges at waist level to make getting a handhold to hop over harder.[45]

Production Automated Fare Collection (AFC) implementation began in 1994. New turnstiles, including unstaffed high wheels, and floor-to-ceiling service gates, featured lessons learned from trials. As AFC equipment was rolled out, evasion plummeted. Fare abuse agents, together with independent monitoring, were eliminated.

Station agents[edit]

NYCS had tried to reduce station agent positions since full MetroCard vending machine (MVM) deployment in 1997. Agents, whose primary responsibility was selling tokens, now sell MetroCards. However, AFC eliminated long booth queues, so fewer clerks were needed. Passengers now interact with agents only for requests like mutilated farecards, concessionary fares, or travel directions. Clerks weren’t cross-trained for AFC maintenance; that function was assigned to turnstile maintainers. NYCS determined that each station required only one full-time booth, serving dominant (or both) travel directions.

Some thought the station destaffing plan would lead to potential evasion increases, and consequently more general crime. The original FATF (1988–1997) was reconvened in 2009 to review trends and coordinate mitigation strategies between NYCS and [[New York City Police Department]]’s Transit Bureau (NYPD). Further confusing the issue, agents themselves historically provided evasion counts in their normal course of duty.

Decision to eliminate agents turned out controversial with both riding public and elected officials. Representatives were concerned about constituents’ jobs, whereas riders were concerned about susceptibility to crime:

“We don’t need those booths now because machines are doing the work of extra clerks,” said Albert W. O’Leary, a spokesman for the MTA. […] cutbacks will save $6 million each year. […] neighborhood groups, rider advocates and the Transport Workers Union, Local 100, which represents the City’s 3,500 token booth clerks, say the closings will mean fewer eyes and ears to deter crime.[46]

A 2004 compromise converted low-volume booths to high-wheels, high-volume booths to part-time entrances called “kiosks” (51) staffed by Station Customer Assistants (SCAs). Affectionately called “burgundy jackets”, SCAs don’t sell farecards, instead they walk around solving customers issues, including fare machine usage.

Naturally, both sides put their story out in the press. Those favoring elimination frequently cite a civil suit concerning the 2005 sexual assault at 21 St-Van Alst station, which occurred despite alarm having been raised by the agent. The lawsuit was dismissed.[47] The agents’ contributions are clear to some:

In 2006, a crazed man wielding two power hacksaws attacked [Michael Steinberg, in 110 St- Cathedral Parkway station.] If it wasn’t for a quick-thinking station agent, [he would have died.] “They do more than just sell MetroCards and give directions. They saved my life.” [48]

The 2009 fiscal crisis necessitated more agent reductions, leaving only one 24-hour booth per station complex. Planned attrition program was converted to layoffs when fiscal situation deteriorated further in 2010.


Combating fare evasion in New York City[edit]

Properly locking emergency gates[edit]

In studies, gate evasion rate was found to be 1.5% unlocked, and only 0.8% when locked. Interestingly, unlocked gates also invite more “questionable” entries; rate was 1.8% unlocked, but only 0.9% locked. Keeping gates locked potentially halves gate-related evasions. Following this finding, NYCS reinstructed station supervisors and agents on importance and revenue impacts of keeping gates locked. Questionable gate entries decreased from 1.5% to 0.4% following this change, but illegal gate entries didn’t show statistically significant decrease when seasonality effects are accounted for. This measure seems to target mostly casual evasions.

Fare control area configuration[edit]

Originally fare control hardware and staff presence was thought to affect evasions. Unstaffed HEETs (with emergency exits), a generally unsupervised environment, might invite rampant evasions. However, pilot studies indicated these locations had similar gate evasions (0.9%) to staffed locations (1.0%). At least in New York, agents don’t seem to deter evaders. Unsupervised HEETs had similar turnstile evasions (1.2%) to staffed locations (1.0%). Unsupervised exit-only locations have lower gate evasions (0.6%) than elsewhere, suggesting evasion is a crime of opportunity. Exit-only gates are only opened when trains arrive and passengers open them from paid side; evaders likely find it more time-efficient to evade through entrances. Only the most determined evaders would wait at exit-only locations for others to exit, to enter.

Child height restrictions[edit]

Passengers may be unaware of height guidelines determining when children must begin to pay, which were posted at booths that many customers no longer use. Prototype signs are now being tested near turnstiles at the Bowling Green station.

Organized fare abuse operations[edit]

MVM vandalism costs NYCS both in lost revenues and repair expenses. NYCS provides MVM vandalism intelligence to NYPD, which utilizes hidden portable wireless digital video cameras in “sting” operations to gather evidence against organized fare abuse rings and identify leaders. These “professional swipers” can be difficult to apprehend because they are very mobile and requires strategic and determined law enforcement efforts to monitor MVM vandalism patterns, prioritizing stations with highest vandalism rates.

In years past, theft-of-service crimes were often dismissed with time served (several days in Riker's Island), but by working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Midtown Community Court, FATF achieved escalating sentences for recidivists. The coordinated efforts resulted in a five-swiper ring being disbanded and sentences of over one year being imposed. Measuring impacts of taking down fare abuse operations is difficult, because even large swiper rings ‘sell’ very few fares compared to natural day-to-day fluctuations of the 8.0 million riders on NYC’s system due to reasons like weather or special events.

Legal framework and enforcement[edit]

The most important evasion fighting tool is arguably comprehensive and functioning legal frameworks to deal with evaders and counterfeiters. NYCS’s Rule of Conduct (62) has banned evasions since the 1980s, rules having been established mainly for arresting persons likely to commit other crimes (assault, graffiti). With appropriate legal framework, like traffic stops, evasion checks can be effective in identifying and arresting criminals wanted on outstanding warrants.[49]

To round-up evaders, MTA fare inspectors continue to use the “surge” strategy first developed by Transit police. Renewed enforcement interests led to several high profile cases. Swiss tourists with allegedly valid passes were ticketed for bumping turnstiles.[50] One passenger was arrested for exiting, not entering, through an emergency gate.[51]

Legal framework is more than prohibition of illegal acts and prescription of fines. Complete regulations should address issues like: arrests versus summonses; arresting/summons issuing powers; whether undercover enforcement is permitted; disputes/appeals process (e.g. “my monthly MetroCard isn’t working, so I went through gate”); dealing with genuinely confused tourists (e.g. “I flashed my pass, so going through gate is okay?”); required evidence for conviction (e.g. whether video evidence are admissible). New York allows certain non-police employees to issue evasion citations, and utilizes both uniformed and undercover police enforcement.

Contextual security – expressly forbidding nonpayment and offering ways to punish rulebreakers – is potentially as important as having secure hardware. In Boston, students used well-known methods [52][53] to defeat Mifare Classic farecard’s proprietary encryption, publicly demonstrating proof-of-concept forgeries.[54] However, they didn’t acknowledge the highly illegal nature of using forged cards, making cloning not worthwhile for $1.70 fares. Chips implementing stronger open-standard encryption algorithms have now largely superseded Mifare Classic.

Evasion prevention hardware[edit]

Video recording equipment may deter criminal activity, including evasion. Cameras are widely deployed in modern Asian and European transit systems.

Like other US agencies, NYCS installed counter-terrorism cameras at key stations. PIDs[further explanation needed] cover fare controls from every conceivable angle with high fidelity video, positively identifying terror suspects. They also produce clear pictures of entering and exiting passengers, including evaders.

In the US, the MBTA, CTA,[31] and Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) also use sophisticated camera equipment. The MBTA even apprehended vandals damaging AFC equipment while evading, and published the video footage.[55]

On PATH (and some NYCS stations), hidden rooms with half-silvered glass or surveillance portals are provided for covert police observation. Perpetrators are apprehended by police that suddenly appear from behind closed doors when illegal acts occur.


Transit’s $60 penalty was internally set by Transit Adjudication Bureau (TAB) with delegated powers.[56] NYCT increased fines to $100 in July 2008, the maximum TAB can levy without further approvals, to support conversion to Proof-of-Payment (POP) fare collection on a Bronx bus line .[57] In Boston, prior to CharlieCard AFC implementation and conversion of booth clerks to roving agents, MBTA quietly asked Massachusetts State Legislature to make evasions a civil offense [58] punishable by progressive fines ($15 first offense; $100 second; $250 third or subsequent). On Newark City Subway, where POP is in effect, evasion penalty was initially $75, but increased to $100 in 2008. On Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), evasion fines range from $85 to $235,[59] whereas they “start at $50” on the San Francisco Municipal Railway.[60]

Closed circuit television[edit]

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring is used by many public transport companies to combat vandalism and other public order crimes. Using CCTV to apprehend fare-dodgers in the act requires full-time human monitoring of the cameras. Sophisticated CCTV systems discriminate the scenes to detect and segregate suspicious behavior from numerous screens and to enable automatic alerting. However, the attentiveness of the surveillance personnel may be threatened by false reliance on automatics.

Penalty fare[edit]

Main article: Penalty fare

A penalty fare is a special fare charged at a higher than normal price because the purchaser did not comply with the normal ticket purchasing rules. Typically penalty fares are incurred by passengers failing to purchase a ticket before travelling or by purchasing an incorrect ticket which does not cover their whole journey.

Penalty fares are not fines and are used when no legal basis for prosecuting fare evasion exists, but prosecution is deemed too drastic and costly or is unlikely to result in conviction.

However, people without a ticket who carry no identity document, can in several countries be suspected of escaping conviction, or fraud, which can be enough reason to detain that person.

Civil and criminal penalties[edit]

On some systems, fare evasion is considered a misdemeanor. In such cases, police officers and in some cases transit employees are authorized to issue tickets which usually carry a heavy fine. Then, charged persons can then be tried in court. Repeat violators and severe cases, such as ticket forgery, are punished more severely and sometimes involve incarceration. Wealthy offenders face stiffer penalties than poorer offenders.[61]

Ticket barriers[edit]

Main article: Ticket barrier
High Entrance Turnstiles in Madrid.

Turnstiles are used to obstruct invalid access. Since most fare-dodgers know how to pass a gate without paying, turnstiles may be replaced with ticket barriers in a less easily transversed form, or may be integrated more closely with an electronic ticket system.

Ticket barriers can also require the travellers to show their tickets upon exiting.

Ticket inspectors[edit]

With manual fare collection, fare evasion can become more difficult and stigmatizing for the fare-dodging traveller. Ticket inspectors may or may not be allowed to use force to prevent or apprehend fare-dodgers.

Uniformed guards[edit]

The presence of uniformed guards can act as a deterrent to fare evasion. Guards may or may not be allowed to use force to prevent or apprehend fare-dodgers.

Undercover public transit police officers[edit]

It is sometimes common for police officers dressed in plain clothes to patrol subway stations. As such, they have all the jurisdiction that normal officer have when policing the transit system.

Manual fare collection[edit]

Transit systems which use honor systems under normal circumstances may employ staff to collect fares at times and places where heavy use can be expected - for example, at stations serving a stadium after the conclusion of a major sporting event.


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See also[edit]